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The Pentagon Releases Plan To Close Guantanamo, Despite Republican Opposition

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 23/02/2016 Jessica Schulberg
ATHENA IMAGE © Mark Wilson/Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon released a long-anticipated plan outlining the steps the Obama administration will take to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

The nine-page document released Tuesday morning contained few surprises and failed to remedy conflicts between President Barack Obama’s aspirations to shut down Guantanamo during his final year in office and legal restrictions imposed by Republicans in Congress that prevent the president from sending any of the remaining detainees to the U.S. It was released by the Pentagon not because of a breakthrough agreement between the White House and Congress, but because of a deadline set by lawmakers for “the details of a comprehensive strategy” on how to detain current and future people captured as part of the broad-reaching war on terror.

The plan closely resembles what Obama has long called for: transferring those that have been cleared for release to third-party countries, bringing those that can be charged with a crime to trial, and working with Congress to move the remaining prisoners to a U.S. prison -- an effort lawmakers outlawed in the annual defense spending bill.

The White House refers to the population of prisoners that can’t be charged with a crime -- either because of lack of evidence or because the evidence available is tainted by torture -- but are deemed too dangerous to release the “irreducible minimum.” There are currently 91 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, including 35 who have been approved for transfer. 

A guan administration official said Tuesday that these prisoners could be transferred to a modified existing military facility on U.S. soil or to a new site built specifically for the Guantanamo prisoners. The Pentagon plan does not recommend a specific site, but Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in South Carolina have been floated as possible facilities.

Republicans reject any proposal that involves moving Guantanamo detainees stateside, making it unclear how Obama will implement the Pentagon’s plan without completely bypassing lawmakers. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has placed a hold on the president’s nominee for the secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, the first openly gay individual to be nominated to head one of the military branches. Katherine Knight, a spokesman for Roberts, said he is willing to use “any legislative tools at his disposal to prevent this transfer.”

The senior administration official described the Republican opposition as nonsensical.

“To think that we can’t hold 30 to 60 people in a DOD facility securely, we don’t accept that premise,” he said.

He acknowledged the uphill battle the White House faces in getting congressional Republicans to accept the proposed plan to close Guantanamo, but said Obama is committed to taking Guantanamo “off the plate of the next president.” As for how to do that given the current legal restrictions, the official simply told reporters, “It’s an occupational requirement to be optimistic in this business.”

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